Food For Thought – Having children myself I know how frustrating it can be to keep a family satisfied and interested in good, healthy food. Half an hour in front of commercial television is enough to convince them they can live off a diet of cheese strings and coco pops, so as parents we often have a difficult and unfair fight on our hands.
We simply cannot compete with burger chain campaigns and fizzy drink adverts by waving a lettuce leaf or presenting a plate of boiled potatoes and grilled fish as the healthy alternative.
Experimenting to keep dinner times interesting is also a challenge. I have a freezer full of bad ideas that are regularly bagged up, ready for the food recycling bin.
Annabel Karmel is one woman who recognises the importance of feeding your children good, healthy food, using nutritious and diverse recipes. She has written over 18 booksadvising mothers all around the world how to feed the offspring meals that are good for them.
Her range of inspirational books has sold over 4million copies and her first published book – The Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner – back in 1991 recorded impressive initial sales off the back of “word-of-mouth” feedback alone. Today it remains the number 1 bestselling book on feeding children and was endorsed by Great Ormond Street Hospital .
When we first met I couldn’t believe Annabel was 47 as my details disclosed. The woman welcoming me into her office looked to be no more than in her late 30s so either this was a typo or healthy eating really did have its benefits.
I began by asking her what first inspired her down the path of writing and educating people about food and was slightly thrown by the response.
“I lost my baby Natasha at 13 weeks to Encephalitis and beyond the grief, I felt a need to somehow turn this tragedy into something positive so that I could remember Natasha in a positive way. I feel that the success I have enjoyed is a legacy to her.”
Annabel was raised in North London, the daughter of a businessman and an architect and attended St Paul’s School, where academic failure was not an option.
“I never learned a thing about cooking there because things like making meals or becoming a housewife were frowned upon.
“From the earliest age, it was instilled in me to have a career and it was expected that you would excel in whatever you chose to do. I can say wholeheartedly that the key ingredients to my success in business are a passion for what I do and a determination to make a difference to people’s lives.”
However, in her early days, Annabel did seem destined for a very different path in the music industry.
“When I was still a teenager I appeared on the Russell Harty television show to play the harp, then alongside Dennis Waterman and Rula Lenska as Cinderella and I also took part in a video with Boy George.”
Her studies took her to the Royal College of Music and when she turned 18, she went to Holland to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Music at The Hague . It was here that for the first time cooking became a necessity. Annabel’s mother started sending her daughter recipes and standing at her little cooker night after night Annabel had to cook for herself for the first time.
“By the time I returned home, cooking had become a hobby and a way for me to relax. Perhaps it is the creative in me that is satisfied I can’t say for sure but I decided to take a cordon bleu cookery course for my own gratification.”
Following her marriage in 1984 and her daughter’s death 2 years later Annabel felt she had lost everything she treasured. Her musical career now seemed superficial and much of the direction appeared to have disappeared from her life.
“I simply couldn’t face playing music after Natasha died. It seemed so trivial and unnecessary to be sitting and playing when my baby was dead.
Then in August 1988 her son Nicholas was born – delivered on the stairway of the new family home by his father – and suddenly part of that terrible void was filled by her new arrival.
“Nicholas was a difficult eater. I’m sure many mothers reading this will know what I mean. However, I was determined not to give in and take the easy option and so I began what was 2 years of research into child nutrition and development I took time to interview leading paediatricians and child nutritionists here in the UK to get as much information as I could to help me.
“I married this experience with my passion for cooking and with some encouragement from the playgroup I was running at the time, I wrote my first book. It took many months of preparation and cooking; endless research and testing of recipes – I am a perfectionist – and once my first manuscript was published there was no stopping me. I’ve been writing ever since.”
As her own family grew with the birth of daughters Lara and Scarlett so her recipes and meal planners expanded also and Annabel wrote 17 more books, ranging from a “Fussy Eaters Recipe Book”, “Favourite Family Meals”, “Lunchboxes” and “The Mum And Me Cookbook”.
Annabel has since worked as a consultant with companies like Marks and Spencer and has the leading range of chilled foods for children in the UK, sold in major supermarkets including Tesco and Sainsbury. She also produces children’s food for all the major theme parks, from Legoland through to Thorpe Park and has teamed up with Butlins and Haven Holidays where she runs cooking classes for children. It’s no wonder she was awarded an MBE in June 2006 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her outstanding work in the field of child nutrition.
Annabel writes regularly for national newspapers in the UK including The Times, The Daily Mail and the Sunday Mirror as well as contributing to Mother and Baby Magazine and Tesco Baby Club.
She is the children’s celebrity chef on the BBC website and also appears frequently on radio and television as the UK’s expert on nutritional issues including This Morning and BBC Breakfast News.
Recently, she completed a series on the Richard and Judy Show, as the “Foodie Godmother” where she travelled around the United Kingdom solving the problems of fussy eaters. (She also filmed a 10-part series with Sky Active called Mummy That’s Yummy).
For recipes, advice, tips and details on Annabel’s tremendous work visit her website at www.annabelkarmel.com.